One of the biggest changes in the UK housing market in recent years has been the emergence of the build-to-rent (BTR) sector as a response to growing demand from renters.
Developers are pouring billions into building US multi-family style, high-quality flats to rent, suitable for the needs of the young population.
Yet young renters are not our only growing market. Britain is seeing another surge in demand – our rapidly greying population is calling out for better later-years housing options that shrug off the stereotypical grim image of ‘retirement homes’. To meet the needs of our baby boomers, we should draw inspiration from the retirement developments in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The statistics speak for themselves: by 2030, we expect to have more than 20 million people aged over 65 living in the UK. Based on these numbers, we will see the same level of demand for retirement housing as we see for starter homes today.
A huge problem facing our ageing population is loneliness, with more than one million people aged over 65 saying they always feel lonely in their own homes, according to Age UK. This poses additional health risks that threaten their wellbeing and burden our health system.
Nobody wants to be lonely. Living alone in a four-bedroom house takes its toll on an elderly person’s quality of life and costs the health system. It comes as no surprise then that a large part of the older generation would move out if they had better options, according to the International Longevity Centre.
“Specialist retirement housing has been sidelined by government policy”
This lack of options has held back elderly people from downsizing, which means that many continue to live in large family homes on their own. Baby boomers’ combined property wealth is worth millions, which could be freed up for younger families if we were to scale up our offer of quality retirement homes.
Specialist retirement housing has been sidelined by government policy. Lack of planning guidance for this sector and no ‘Help-to-Move’ schemes to parallel the Help-to-Buy schemes for starter homes, have stalled the expansion of retirement housing.
Add to this the high stamp duty on acquiring land and the negative reputation of retirement homes, and we can see why there has been little development in the sector.
Tailored to fit
We can learn from the success story of retirement villages in other countries. The facts are encouraging: 13% of the elderly population live in a purpose-built village, and that number is growing year on year. These retirement properties have created communities and reduced health and social care costs. Australia’s retirement communities provide an array of options, including independent living as well as care apartments with domestic support for the elderly.
Cast Consultancy has advised many later-living/retirement developments, which proves that expanding the sector is possible and viable. We worked with Elysian Residences in the development of Jubilee House in Stanmore and advised on providing a service-led, inclusive housing offering for the elderly tailored to their specific needs and varying the amount of care and support provided.
Elysian Residences also strove to ensure that their elderly customers would actually want to live in Jubilee House by offering the same level of comfort and high quality they enjoyed in their own homes.
Housing our ageing population with dignity and care can be done. We must learn the lessons from our own growing BTR sector, as well as looking at models from around the world. Purpose-built retirement villages and homes that cater for the specific needs of older people – whether that is with onsite care or a like-minded community – can make a positive difference to their wellbeing while opening housing opportunities for the younger generations across the country.